Part One: Opposition or Enemy?


“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” ~Harry S. Truman

The cover of the New Yorker

Ron and I attended the Trump Rally yesterday. We went with an open mind, excited to be a part of history because the last president to have a rally in Johnson City, TN was Gerald Ford in 1976. Friends warned us to be vigilant and very careful because we would be surrounded by very dangerous people in a rabid crowd.

Now, I can understand the fear if we were planning on diving with sharks or jumping into a lion’s cage…but we are talking about fellow citizens…human beings who share the same wants and needs. Surely, we can find common ground. We weren’t going as protesters, only as silent observers of human nature. As recent evacuees from Nicaragua, we were curious to see how democracy worked…or didn’t work in the states.

One of my biggest dilemmas was what to wear. I couldn’t don a MAGA ensemble…that seemed hypocritical. I was the opposition. I wanted to go incognito…diversified in my thoughts. So, I dressed as a New Zealand Kiwi. It seemed fitting because we were in New Zealand during the 2016 election.


We weren’t sure what time to arrive. The doors opened at 4pm, but in talking with some of my friends who planned to attend, they recommended lining up early in the morning. We showed up at 10 am and estimated that there were about 500 people lined up ahead of us. I knew there would be a huge turnout because we live in a very red state. Better to be prepared with water, lunch, and a blanket to survive the brutally hot day.

My plans were to write hourly updates on Facebook with our impressions throughout the day. My first update taught me a lesson. If I am to be a casual open-mined observer, I cannot be offensive. Everyone knows how I feel, but if I resort to name calling then I am as bad as others. I apologized to my friends whom I offended, restricted them on Facebook until my updates were over ( if I had a lapse of civility again! ) and moved on. Believe me, it wasn’t easy but, from now on, I will refer to him as POTUS.

We talked and joked with our line neighbors. Surface conversations, as I call them. They never expressed their political opinions to us, nor did we divulge that we weren’t Republicans. My biggest concern at the time was the lack of portapotties! Our line neighbors to the left of us sympathized with me, although they were all men. They even offered to have a friend drive by and take me to a gas station so we wouldn’t lose our parking space when I had the urge to go.

It was a carnival-like atmosphere. The line moved sporadically and slowly throughout the day and inched closer to Freedom Hall. Just when we were settled into a routine of playing cards, watching games of corn-hole, or taking turns seeking shade under a tree, the line would move again disrupting our entertainment.

No one suspected that we were the opposition. A guy walked passed us with a Democrat sniffing dog, or so he said. To be on the safe side and not expose our cover, I was ready to distract the dog with my ham sandwich.

Another guy selling bibles lamented that he couldn’t sell any bibles because all the Trump supporters had them. One curious thing we noticed was that the street vendors touting their wares up and down the lines were people of color…the only people of color that I could see at the rally. It was not a diversified crowd.

It was difficult to be nonjudgmental. I suspect it is human nature to judge, however, I was determined not to generalize or offend anyone in any way. I had my lapses…don’t we all? This one in particular. This is a horrible generalization I made. There are so many things wrong with my statement. Once again, I apologized for my indiscretion. Unfortunately, it was too late because I didn’t put all my Trump supporting friends on my restricted list on Facebook and I lost several after this statement.

The point I am trying to make in Part One of my post is that I am human. I have lapses in judgment, I say offensive things occasionally, and I regret my inability to hold my tongue, instead lashing out in anger, while mocking those who have different opinions and a different viewpoint in life. There is a fine line of balance I tread in these times of political division…words do matter! Don’t misunderstand me…I am not saying to be silent. Instead choose words carefully…think before reacting…understand the fears we all experience at times in our lives…and be respectful regardless of different political viewpoints. It is hard! I know! But, if we are to begin to understand others, we must take an introspective and realistic look within ourselves first.

Generally speaking, the people around us in line all day were helpful, friendly, and respectful. One man offered me his umbrella when the sun overwhelmed me. A woman had pizza delivered and offered everyone in line near her some pizza. We didn’t discuss politics, but I wonder what they would have said if I offered my opinions respectfully.

I.Am.Human!

If there is one thing I have learned about today, it is that without political division instigated by the media and POTUS working people into a hateful frenzy, I believe we would be kinder and gentler with one another.

Those were my thoughts and feelings throughout the day…until we entered Freedom Hall. Then, I felt like I entered the twilight zone of a mob raging with anger and hatred. What happened to these kind and helpful people? Had I become the enemy?

…my thoughts in Part Two

 

 

 

 

The Nicaraguan Evolution Continues: Basta Ya!


“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

63 dead, 15 still missing, many injured
I’ve written regular updates to my family and friends on Facebook and others have asked me to share them. So, below, I share my personal reflections on what is happening in Nicaragua.


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Evolution in Nicaragua


                     “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
                       ― Rosa Luxemburg


I don’t know where to begin to tell you what has occurred in Nicaragua since last week. It is a unique experience for us. I think it may be an evolution of the Nicaraguan people. I prefer saying evolution over revolution. Evolution has never been just a scientific theory. Ever since it was first formulated by Darwin, the theory has been used to advance a variety of political projects. Although evolution is a directionless process in nature, in ethics and politics the idea of evolution is joined with the hope of improvement.

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Love Your Country or Leave It?


“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain

Usually one of the first questions I am asked about being an expat besides the “What do you do in Nicaragua?” or “Are you a missionary?” is “Why did you leave America?”

My response is that I never left America. I am still here. I live in Central America. If that doesn’t piss them off, then I could say that I am a political refugee from the Divided States of America. But, I never say that because first, it is a lie, and second, I love my homeland and I really don’t like to create tension or controversy unless it is a last resort. I am a mediator at heart, I seek peace.

So, when angry people respond to me in a political discussion, “Love it, or leave it!” what is the appropriate response? Why is it that expats are seen as less patriotic than those who stayed in their home country? Can expats be patriotic? If so, how?

Photo credit to Larry Wilkinson

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Lasting Impressions of Cuba


“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

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How to Get Absentee Ballots for U.S. Citizens


Voting-Quote-1My husband and I have always exercised our right to vote in local, state, and national elections. Even as expats, we continue to vote for we believe that “the ballot is stronger than the bullet.”

With important elections in the United States now upon us, I want to explain our process of receiving absentee ballots and voting from Nicaragua.

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Expats: Free Birds or Jail Birds


When asked why foreigners immigrate to Nicaragua, often they say,  I just want to feel free, like never before. My response is usually, Free from what? Does Nicaragua offer more freedom than we can obtain in our home countries? If so, what are those freedoms and are there restrictions to our freedom while living in Nicaragua?

I’m reminded of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song, Free Bird. It is a metaphor for life.  “Things just couldn’t be the same. ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,” the group sings. Life happens whether we want it to or not. Since life passes so quickly, I figured that I might as well jump right into the thick of it…take calculated risks…live my dreams…change and grow. I couldn’t handle staying where things were always the same day after day. Life seemed to be passing me by, and I needed a change where I could spread my wings and fly. Nicaragua gave me that change.



What freedoms do we have in Nicaragua?

Some expat business owners say that they have more freedom to conduct business in Nicaragua. I assume that means there isn’t as much bureaucracy. Others interpret freedom to mean less financial stress and less work.  For me, now that we are retired, freedom = lifetime pensions. We can live comfortably on a fixed income in Nicaragua.

As expats, we express our freedom in many creative ways. We are artists, builders, writers, chefs, teachers, and photographers. We cherish our freedom and our rights to free speech. We defend our home countries, and pack our traditions, values, cultures, and symbols of freedom to display in our adopted country.

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New Regulations for Nicaragua: Mandarin Required


Breaking news! In a dramatic policy change, the legislative branch of Nicaragua, the National Assembly, confirmed today that Mandarin will become the official language of Nicaragua. An amendment to the Nicaraguan Constitution requires all foreign residents and nationals to pass a Mandarin proficiency test.

In expectation of thousands of Chinese immigrants entering Nicaragua to work on the proposed Nicaraguan canal, the spokesperson for the President of the National Assembly states that the rule change is a result of concerns that national and foreign residents will not easily assimilate into local communities where the Chinese immigrants will settle. Without a solid foundation of the Mandarin language, it will adversely affect the local populations.

In a prepared statement being distributed to foreign embassies, consulates, and the Nicaraguan embassy, as well as immigration offices in Managua, the National Assembly states, “We recognize that Mandarin proficiency will be a major predictor to adapt to Nicaragua and a new Chinese culture. We have become increasingly concerned about recent clashes between the Chinese and local residents. Language problems may be causing the clashes due to cultural differences and misunderstandings.”
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Duped on Ometepe Island?


         “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains    enough to be honest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
 

 

I think I have been duped! Last week, a Department of Health medical brigade (MINSA) came to Ometepe Island offering medical services. They walked door to door accompanied by a police officer on a motorcycle.

It’s common to see a MINSA medical brigade here. When severe flooding eroded the shoreline, MINSA came door to door passing out free antibiotics for Leptospirosis. During the rainy season, they pass out a poison powder to sprinkle in standing water where mosquitoes may breed. But, they never come accompanied by the police, and they are always local MINSA employees.

Marina was cleaning my house, and I was raking the yard when I saw the medical brigade come to my door. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation and my Spanish vocabulary with medical words is severely lacking. Although much of the conversation was lost in translation, this is my interpretation of the conversation that took place:

Male nurse: We are offering free medical exams at the hospital on Friday and Saturday.

Me: Great! Sign up my husband and me.

Male Nurse: No. I can’t do that. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’.

Me: What is a bahena and why can’t my husband get the exam, too?

Me: Is it an exam for your heart? For your stomach?

Laughter all around.

Marina: No. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’ and a papagramo exam. ( she said while holding back a chuckle)

Male Nurse: Laughing, while he pointed to my vagina.

More laughter.

Me: Oh, I get it. You are offering free vaginal exams and Pap tests. Sign me up.

I signed a sheet of paper and included my telephone number so they could call me for the time of the appointment. Friday and Saturday passed, and I never received a call. Then, I read this in La Prensa:

courtesy of La Prensa

courtesy of La Prensa

 

For three consecutive days an alleged brigade of the Ministry of Health, heavily guarded by police, has tried uselessly to get into the communities of Sacramento, Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, where residents maintain an armed encampment with sticks, stones and even machetes. Alberto Lopez, the county Esquipulas, Moyogalpa, said villagers reject the action of MoH for ordering information and ask their opinion on the Canal.

Here lots of times have been brigades of the Ministry of Health, to vaccinate and dispense medicines and they have never come up with police and military riot police, so people joined and they will not be allowed to come to our communities, Lopez said.

He noted that the communities where the brigade is interested in the survey is in Esquipulas, Los Angeles and Sacramento. People decided to keep them out because we want to tell you that nobody here wants to sell their property, are in our territory and we are defending what is ours, argued López.

Juan Barrios, who lives in the Sacramento community, again reported that island communities have returned to ring their church bells to alert the public when pollsters brigade and police and riot police trying to enter the community.

For three days straight doing this encampment to ask these interviewers leave here and the police will say we are not willing to get us out of our territory. Today (last Friday) morning, the police tried to persuade for maintence, but the response of Sacramento was to leave here said Barrios.Juan Barrios, a resident of the community of Sacramento, said when the brigade withdrew assumptions threatened to not send medicines to the health center of the town and told not to return for that place. Villagers said they will not move until the brigade and the police desist from entering the community to ask personal data on the draft of the Grand Canal.

So what exactly did I sign? Who knows? I had been warned by local friends…after the fact…never to sign my name to anything. Have I been duped? Probably. I may have signed a petition in support of the grand canal. They never asked me any questions about the canal…I suppose that once they figured that I didn’t know what a ‘bahena’ was that I would stupidly sign anything. And, I did!

We assume so many things in living in Nicaragua. I want to believe that the police are here to protect us. I want to believe that the Ministry of Health is only offering medical services that we are unable to get on Ometepe Island. I want to believe that the Nicaraguan government wouldn’t use tricks and treachery to gain support for the Nicaraguan canal.

I’ve learned never to assume anything and never to sign anything without questioning.  Always expect the unexpected while living in the land of the not quite right. Life goes on…but I’ll always wonder what I signed…and probably never find out the truth.

 

International Human Rights Day in Nicaragua


“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
― John F. Kennedy

December 10th is International Human Rights Day. In honor of this day, a great March Against the Nicaraguan Canal is scheduled in Managua. This year’s theme is Human Rights 365.

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